For fans of the New England Revolution this has been a pretty tough offseason. Reading a very interesting interview with Steve Nicol at FoxSoccer.com made it very clear that there are some very interesting hurdles to make it over this year.
- Paul Mariner: Hugely respected Assistant coach with vast experience and knowledge – gone. What did Nicol have to say in the interview? “To be honest you can’t replace him”
- Jay Heaps: Defensive leader who was part of the “soul” of the team – gone. Heaps wasn’t called out in the interview, but Nicol glowed about Heaps the player/man during his retirement event.
- Jeff Larentowicz: Half of our reliable, trusted midfield core – gone. In the interview, Nicol says “Jeff was huge for us. . .”
- Steve Ralston: Team captain and a player that made all the others around him better – gone. Nicol, though asked about Twellman and Ralston, only commented on Twellman’s importance. Interesting, as they were probably negotiating Ralston’s contract . . . and we saw how that ended.
- Taylor Twellman: Goal machine and often the “face” of the Revs – still here, still trying to get well.
- Matt Reis: Confidence inspiring keeper, one of the best in the league: out injured.
- Chris Albright: While less of a Revolution mainstay, an experienced player with a winning tradition – gone.
So where does that leave the Revs? Enter the Steve and Shalrie show.
Steve Nicol, the longest tenured coach in MLS is the one constant in this team over the last few years. He is respected by players and other coaches alike, due to his stewardship of the Revolution as well as his history as a Liverpool great and Footballer of the Year. Last year his managerial skills were tested during an injury filled campaign that left him without key players (Twellman, Albright, Ralston to name just a few) for long stretches of the season. The team made the playoffs, but rarely dazzled. Given the roster issues, that’s probably considered a success. Unless some major acquisitions are announced before the season, Nicol will again need to wring out the most of an unspectacular roster.
One area of interest – and big question mark so far – will be what Steve’s draft choices can offer. MLS draftees are typically less impactful than in some other major sports, but the Revolution have been among the best at pulling solid MLS players from the draft, and often, MLS standouts. Surprisingly stellar rookie campaigns from Kevin Alston and Darrius Barnes last year helped buoy a troubled back line. It will be interesting to see if a similar magic act is performed this year.
The other constant is the excellence of Shalrie Joseph. Nicol put it this way in the recent interview, “How Shalrie Joseph does not win the MVP award is beyond me.” Many Revolution fans agree, as do quite a few MLS watchers. If Shalrie isn’t wearing the captain’s armband next season, there will quite a few fans scratching their heads during the season. But Shalrie is only human. His game is the engine that keeps the team humming, but the more that is asked of him – and the fewer trusted players around him – can only serve to lessen his impact. He cannot simultaneously be the midfield general, defensive anchor and center forward.
So the Revolution Front Office and fan base have put their trust in Steve Nicol to steer the ship for the last few years and for the foreseeable future. (A good choice.) He has Shalrie Joseph – and Taylor Twellman, if healthy?? – and a band of supporting characters with which to work with in 2010. He’ll need every ounce of coaching to make this season work, but a couple pre-season signings wouldn’t hurt. (I see they’ve already hit their “Steve” quota again despite Ralston’s departure with the addition of new Assistant Coach Stephen Myles.)
There are other signs of hope that we can dig through at another time. But if Shalrie pulls up injured in pre-season, we’ll need to have Revolution fans – and their team manager – hand over any sharp objects, belts and anything else they could use to end the misery.